The 76ers’ restart scrimmage games are too easy for Ben Simmons.
The point forward had 14 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, and 1 steal in 26 minutes, 31 seconds Sunday as the shorthanded Sixers lost, 102-97, to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The team dropped to 1-1 on an afternoon when it was without Joel Embiid (right calf tightness) and Raul Neto (lower back tightness) at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando, Fla. Another Sixer, Glenn Robinson III, suffered a left hip pointer in the second quarter and did not return in the second half.
Embiid and Neto are listed as day-to-day. All three players will be reevaluated on Monday.
Al Horford played well starting in place of Embiid with 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals in 26 minutes. Nine of his points came in the first quarter on 3-for-4 shooting from beyond the three-point line. Horford ended up making 4 of 5 three-pointers.
Josh Richardson had 4 steals and 2 blocks to go with 10 points.
But Simmons was, by far, the best all-round player on the floor for the second straight game after missing the final eight games before the league shutdown in March with a pinched nerve in his lower back. The two-time All-Star participated in pick-and-rolls, scored in the post, and brought the ball up and ran the offense on occasion.
Perhaps his biggest highlight came when he dribbled behind his back in transition, drove the lane, and fired a pass to Shake Milton behind the three-point line. The point guard buried the three to give the Sixers a 79-57 lead with 3 minutes, 48 seconds left in the third quarter.
“To play [27 minutes] and be one assist away from a triple-double, I was happy with it,” said coach Brett Brown, who wants to use Simmons more in screen-setting situations. “I thought he was pretty good.”
If there was a blemish, it was his five turnovers.
The 24-year-old was moved from point guard to power forward during the restart. His style in two games compares to when was a do-everything forward at Montverde Academy near Orlando. Back then, the Australian was the top high school recruit in the Class of 2015. Unguardable, he led the Eagles to three consecutive High School National Tournament titles.
“I haven’t really looked at this position as the four or five whatever it is,” Simmons said. “I’ve just been out there playing. To me, when I’m put in different situations, I’m able to succeed when I’m comfortable.
“I feel like these past two games, I’ve been doing well. I can do better.”
He believes there’s a lot he needs to work on and improve, but overall, he’s getting his flow back.
On Friday, against in a 90-83 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Simmons finished with 9 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals in 22 minutes.
Embiid first experienced discomfort in his right calf during Friday’s game in which he played only 12:57. The Sixers said he missed Sunday’s game for precautionary reasons.
Brown was asked if there was a sense that Embiid would miss Tuesday’s scrimmage against the Dallas Mavericks and Saturday’s seeding games opener against the Indiana Pacers.
“That’s one man’s opinion. I believe we are just getting out in front of stuff and being smart with it,” he responded.
This season, Embiid has missed 19 games due to injuries and two because of suspensions before the shutdown.
So this has to be a “here we go again” moment, right?
“Not really,” Brown said. “It’s a second game. I feel that it’s an opportunity, truly, not coach-speak, not political-speak, truly to play Al [Horford] more, to put him with some different groups.”
“I think if this would have happened three or four games into some sort of what we’re calling the ‘regular season,’ there’s always frustration, selfish frustration.”
Brown knows the frequent injuries are frustrating at times for Embiid, but he said the team is initially trying to be smart by resting him.
The coach later said he’s not concerned about Embiid’s calf.
“Neither of us have concern,” he said.
Robinson suffered a left hip pointer while colliding with a Thunder player in the second quarter. After landing on his back, Robinson got up and played a couple of minutes before going to the locker room. He was reevaluated at intermission and did not return.